MPAA Rating: R | Rating: ★★★★½
Release year: 2015
Genre: Biography, Drama Director: McCarthy

It’s hard to keep up with the news these days. So much of what passes as “journalism” has been crunched into hashtags, 140 characters, a barrage of political punditry, and knee-jerk reactions meant to pique the basest of our human emotions. Patience is no longer a virtue. Ours is a culture of the immediate.

This is what makes Spotlight such a remarkable film. Based on actual events, Spotlight focuses on the prize-winning Boston Globe investigative journalist team who uncovered and broke the story about systemic injustices happening within the Catholic Church as pedophile priests were allowed to continue–with both the church and the law’s knowledge–to serve in parishes. The patient, long-term investigative practices of these journalists is laudable, as is their courage in the face of opposition. This is not hashtag journalism; this is a discipline. Where a lesser film might have sensationalized the events or manipulated viewers’ emotions with sweeping musical scores or Actors Who Emote, Spotlight relies on the power of the truth itself to foster both empathy and affection.

The actors portraying the “spotlight” team of reporters–Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James–give phenomenal performances, fleshing out their characters with a sense of authenticity and grace. The muted color palette of the film, filled with greys and whites, sets the tone for the story. This is a weighty moral tale, one where the ethical decisions and outcomes are far too complex to reduce to simplistic answers. This is where patience comes in, both for the audience and the journalists. Had the investigative team simply reported on the first outrageous story of a priest molesting a child, it would have gained some passionate-but-brief attention, then faded into memory. The new editor for the Globe (Liev Schreiber in an outstanding and subtle performance) tells his team to keep going, to look at the system. The pursuit of the truth is not a sexy or glamorous process. There are countless scribbled notes, rejected interviews, and archival retrievals. It doesn’t feel particularly heroic or exciting to read through thousands of Catholic Church records over the course of countless hours, hoping to find some sort of pattern. This is the power of patience; it’s only through our willingness to be quiet and still and focused that the truth will come to the surface.

Spotlight is back to the excellence I expect from filmmaker Tom McCarthy, whose early 2015 film The Cobbler can be noted as one of the worst films of the year. His earlier films, The Station Agent and Win Win, are noteworthy, but it’s his film The Visitor–which earned Richard Jenkins a well-deserved Oscar nomination–which remains my personal favorite of his endeavors. Each of McCarthy’s films is willing to wrestle with complex moral issues–immigration in The Visitor, foster care in Win Win–with gravitas and care. The direction here in Spotlight allows the actors and scenes to play out without interference. There isn’t much stylish or cinematic flair here, but that doesn’t mean the form is without intentionality. McCarthy uses the environment to communicate, such as the scene of an interview between McAdams and a victim of a priest shot from afar on the balcony of a run-down apartment, with a large Catholic church looming in the background, juxtaposing the smallness of the victims in comparison to the enormous institution that is the Catholic Church.

This word, looming: it’s what the Church is doing throughout this film. It’s a threat to justice and the truth while paradoxically promoting the very Truth of the gospel. Often the victims of the priests would remark that saying “no” to a priest would be like saying “no” to God. One key character played by Stanley Tucci points out that this isn’t just sexual abuse; this is spiritual abuse. Yet Spotlight doesn’t try to actively vilify the Catholic Church; it simply presents the story, and allows the viewer to make their own decision. It’s particularly saddening to watch as a pastor and as a person who has a deep respect and care for the Catholic Church. I have many Catholic friends, and this atrocity–priests raping children–must grieve them, as it grieves me. The church should be the very place where the brokenhearted and abused can find healing and rest, not where further abuse can be heaped upon them. There is a scene in the final act where Rachel McAdams’ character’s devout grandmother reads the story her granddaughter has been working on for months. Tears fill her eyes as she understands the shadow side of the institution she loves so dearly. Yet I know that freedom comes when the truth is brought into the light. Only then can true healing begin.

Make no mistake: this is an emotionally heavy film. Yet the emotion and outrage elicited by such a story are far more complex than reducing them to a few outbursts. Spotlight is both an emotional and intellectual film, as well as spiritual. It holds these human facets in a profound tension, one which remains throughout the entire story as it unfolds. Spotlight reveals that truth is always costly, both to those who cover it up and those who reveal it. As the church, we cannot be complicit in hiding the painful realities of those who harm children. Neither can we allow our emotional outrage (an appropriate response) to bring us to unhealthy and temporary knee-jerk reactions. The patience expressed in Spotlight is a long-lost discipline we need to recover in order to promote long-term justice. The truth can purify us, if we’d only give it time.

#patience #truth #journalism #spotlight #thisfilmisgreatyoushouldgoseeitnow

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